Christians You Should Know: JC Penney March 8, 2023

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And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” – Luke 6:31

A Snapshot of the Life of James Cash Penney:

Born: Sept. 16, 1875, in Hamilton, Missouri
Died: Feb. 12,1971, New York, New York

Founder in 1902 of JC Penney Company, which grew to more than 2,000 retail stores, 1,700 in the US. Penny married Berta Hess on August 24, 1899 (died: 1910); Mary Kimball July 29, 1919 (died: 1923); and then Caroline Autenreith on August 10, 1926. In 1902, Penney opened his first store in Kemmerer, WY. Five years later, he launched the “Golden Rule Chain” and introduced profit sharing. In 1913, he incorporated it as the JC Penney Company. The next year, he moved his headquarters from Salt Lake City to New York City. Penney was president of his company until 1917, chairman of the board (1917-58), and honorary chairman (1958-71). In 1929, JC Penney was worth $40 million, but went broke the next year with the stock market collapse. He rebuilt the company after his spiritual renewal. In 1951, corporate sales went past $1 billion. At his death, he had 1,660 outlets with over $4 billion sales. He worked three days a week keeping five secretaries busy. His writings included 50 Years with the Golden Rule and his autobiography, J.C. Penney. He died of a heart attack. His favorite Bible verse was Luke 6:31. – (Excerpt taken from the Reese Chronological Encyclopedia of Christian Biographies. Used by permission.)

A Spiritual Application for our Lives:

Most people have been inside a JC Penney store. However, few people know of the amazing and tragic life of J.C. Penney. Until the end of his life, Penney recalled the spiritual tone set in his Christian home. James wrote that his faithful mother possessed the “most unwavering and serene faith in the purposes of Almighty God.” Likewise, his father was a staunch believer in the Lord Jesus and spent time as a Baptist preacher. As Penney grew older, issues in the church and the enticement of riches began to ensnare him. Still, the principles instilled in this young man kept him from much wickedness. Instead, he was turned to faithless morality.

The problem he faced is the same problem so many face today. Penney wrote, “I came…to see, I was living…on the spiritual capital with which my parents and home influences had endowed me…it was enough for a man to lead a moral and upright life.” Through the trials of life and the truth of God’s Word, the Lord brought Penney back to Himself. The truth imparted to him as a child was not in vain!

Great heartache and financial ruin brought Penney to understand how much more Christ had to offer. He reflected in later years that, “Practicing the golden rule in my business benefitted everyone who came in contact with me. Surely that was being a practical Christian! I had to pass through many, many clashes with life, before I realized that what seemed to me sufficient was less than what Christ taught.” Through the Lord’s help, Penney struggled on with his business – rising to tremendous success. He sought the Lord’s help throughout his work days.

As he grew, Penney realized his lack of quality time with the Lord and became intentional about giving everything to God. His sage advice for life and work holds true today: “It is absurd to pray on rising and consider that that takes care of one’s relationship to God for the day. Actually, the challenge of living effectively makes it necessary to pray all through the day. This does not undervalue the set time for prayer. Rather, it widens the door to functional relationship with God.” Praying is good, but maintaining a prayer life is better (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Our God desires true fellowship with us (John 15). Those who would walk with God must view every issue through the truth of scripture and bring every issue before God in prayer. These are just a few of the lessons we can learn from JC Penney.

A Suggestion for Further Reading…

Fifty Years with the Golden Rule, by James Cash Penney, 1950

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  1. David Caldrhead on June 6, 2023 at 6:50 PM

    It blows my mind to read about someone I didn’t even know existed. J.C. Penney was just a store to me at the mall where me and my friends as teenagers would go walking around and as I remember never bought anything. I considered it a store for rich people and not a store where my family would ever shop at. But as a Christian it’s enlightening to know that just because a man is wealthy doesn’t mean that God can’t humble that man/woman to bring
    Him/Her into a right relationship with Himself through Jesus Christ your Lord.

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